Our Top Books for 2021

Reading Time: 5 mins

Below is a compilation of some of our contributors and editors favorite theology books published in 2021. We hope these can be a resource for each of you as we begin 2022!

Wonderfully Made by John Kleinig

John Kleinig’s book, Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body, is a rhapsody about the human body, marriage, sexuality, and how all of these creaturely realities impact the life of the church and individual believers.

The book is divided into seven sections: Body Matters, The Created Body, The Redeemed Body, The Spiritual Body, The Sexual Body, The Spousal Body, and The Living Body. In each of these, Kleinig does something remarkable: he lights a candle more than he curses the darkness (17). That is, while he does take the time to explain where modern thinking regarding the body has gone astray, he spends much more time positively teaching what the Scriptures themselves teach us about the beauty of creation, God making humanity in his image and likeness, the ramifications of the incarnation of the Son, the blessings and purposes of marriage, and how the Lord uses the created elements in the sacrament (e.g., the water of baptism) to convey to us his saving gifts.

Christians today are often criticized for being anti-this and anti-that, cynical complainers about the moral collapse of society. This criticism is deserved. And that’s why I welcome Kleinig’s approach. He doesn’t balance the negative and the positive; the positive far outweighs the negative. His work is a gift to the church. -Chad Bird

Ragged: Spiritual Disciplines for the Spiritually Exhausted by Gretchen Ronnevik

So much literature on spiritual disciplines reeks of legalism. Too often, such books set standards that make it seem like the value of your piety depends on you and your faithful performance. As pastors, we have a hard time finding resources that will at one time aid the saints in their spiritual disciplines while not ripping away the comfort of the gospel. It's hard to find those books, it is even harder to preach and teach that way. Legalism is so much easier than proclaiming and forming a life around God’s law and gospel. Ronnevik has rescued us from this trap by giving us a gift with Ragged. She demonstrates how the entire Christian life is one of dependence and how spiritual disciplines are not legalistic requirements aimed at keeping us on God’s good side, but rather, gifts given to us by a good Father who uses them to drive us to Christ. As she says, “God calls us to faith, not formulas.” She shows us how spiritual disciplines are more about fixing our eyes on Christ than fixing ourselves. As a pastor tasked with helping my congregation hear, learn, inwardly digest, and pray, I find that this is the book I recommend more than any other right now. -Bob Hiller

The Christ Key by Chad Bird

Chad Bird’s book The Christ Key throbs with the beating heart of “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), specifically, one might say, Grace Incarnate. Throughout, he envelopes the reader with an assortment of Hebrew terms, phrases, and phonetics, all of which usher one into a panoramic vista of the Scriptures’ deep interconnectedness. Every line presses one into the types and shadows of the “good things to come” (Heb. 10:1; cf. Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 9:11). “The good news of Christ is so good, so rich and multifaceted,” Chad writes, “that it cannot be exhausted by a single expression or a single gift.” (86) The Scriptures, then, are not merely antediluvian artifacts of bygone spirituality. Rather, they are delightfully divine exhibitions which reveal the heart of God himself, the embodiment of which is Christ alone. “The key called Christ,” Chad says profoundly, “not only opens the doors of every room from Genesis to Malachi; when you walk inside, what you see there is Christ as well. He is the key, and he is the content. In one way or another, every narrative, every prophet, every psalm, whispers his name and winks about his mission” (vii). The Bible is a cruciform book, with every page dyed in the red hue of the Lamb’s blood. If one is unaccustomed to such language, one is obliged to seek out The Christ Key, after which one will be furnished with the eyes of faith to read the Bible’s Big Story in a brand new way. -Brad Gray

Finding Hope: From Brokenness to Restoration by Heidi Goehmann

We all know the world is broken and we all feel the weight of that brokenness. What we don’t always have is definitions for the brokenness we see and feel. In Finding Hope, Goehmann provides definitions and questions to give us words for the brokenness we feel in ourselves, our families, our communities and in creation. As Heidi writes in the preface, the answer to all the brokenness “is as simple and complicated as Jesus.” Each chapter in this short 181 page book reminds us that while there is imperfection and sin in our friendships, families, selves, and creation, we have hope because of the work of Christ. That hope applies to each part of our lives. -Katie Koplin

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman

In order to faithfully preach law and gospel to one’s congregation, a pastor needs to know the cultural landscape and how it impacts the lives of the sheep Christ has called him to shepherd. One of the keys to understanding that landscape is to know the history of how the culture came to think, believe, and act the way it does. I am a pastor and not a historian, though I would contend that a good pastor needs to know his history as it enables him to answer the question: “How did we get here?” To this end, Trueman’s book is a masterclass in explaining how it is we have come to live in a world where it is seen as normal, and even good, for a man to say, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” Whether they like it or not, every pastor in the West must now be able to deal with gender identity politics. Further, we need to know how to teach our congregations to grapple with these questions from a Biblical, Christ-centered perspective. Trueman is our guide here as he clearly catalogues the prominent thinkers, philosophies, and ideologies that have shaped our current “social imaginary” (Charles Taylor), that is, the way in which our society thinks, speaks, and acts. This was not a light read and a lot of the concepts and ideas took me some time to wrap my head around, but the effort was worth it. This is easily one of the most enlightening and impactful books I have read in a while. -Bob Hiller

Where Prayer Becomes Real by Kyle Strobel and John Coe

While many books on prayer focus on method or correctness, and others dissect what is happening metaphysically or philosophically during prayer, this book focuses on what it means to pray in Christ, and how Christ is the foundation of a fruitful prayer life. Prayer is often a place in the believer's life where we can get performance anxiety, or try to perform for God in the correct way. This book pushes us to pray honestly rather than perfectly, because God works in truth, not pretense. Not only are we allowed to wrestle with our faith in our prayer time, but Christ has provided prayer as a safe place to wrestle when it's in him. This book is refreshingly full of grace and truth, making complex ideas simple. It focuses mostly on individual prayer, and I'd love to see more from these authors on the communal aspects of prayer. -Gretchen Ronnevik

Reclaiming the Reformation by Magnus Persson

Recently translated from Swedish to English, Reclaiming the Reformation is the first installment in Persson’s series on the marks of the church. I love it because it’s digestible and approachable for any Christian no matter their church background or theological training. Persson successfully introduces the heart of the Reformation as justification by grace through faith in Christ through an overview of each of Luther’s seven marks of the church: the Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Office of Ministry, the Divine Service or worship and the Cross.

In a time when the physical church is presented as less and less relevant or more and more dangerous, Persson offers a sound Biblical and Reformational view of the central importance of Church not as a social gathering, a place of volunteer projects, or a corrupted device of the powerful, but at the place where Christ is present and active for us to save, forgive, and redeem. This is a must read for anyone curious about Reformation and law/gospel theology.
-Kelsi Klembara